It was days after Hurricane Harvey had poured out its wrath on Houston. One of the local kosher establishments was involved – along with other organizations – with the collecting of food staples and essentials and transporting them via large trucks to Houston. On the very day that volunteers were packing the truck, I received a call from Mrs. Esther T (name changed).
She asked if she could come to see me about a very important matter. Mrs. T arrived; she was clearly upset and before she could even manage to say a complete sentence, her tears overwhelmed her. As she began to speak her words came out in a torrent of emotions and palpable pain.
“I’m so sorry for crying…. It’s about my husband Shloimi….” Shloimi was particularly known for his chessed. It was known far and wide that if you needed a favor you called Shloimi. He was always there for everyone at seemingly anytime. “Rabbi, I’m so sorry to complain and I am so embarrassed to be here; however, I have nowhere else to turn. I feel so guilty speaking about him.” After allaying her fears Mrs. T regained her composure.
“Rabbi, it’s really very simple. Shloimi is there for everyone and anyone except for me. I know I was trained to be an Eishes Chayil and to be his Ezer K’negdo and that a good Jewish woman does her husband’s bidding; however, there has to be a limit and I cannot live like this anymore.
Hurricane Harvey may have destroyed homes and possessions; however, it also destroyed my entire marriage as I have reached the end of my rope. I cannot manage the house alone anymore!”
She was beside herself in profound and undeniable pain. “Shloimi is packing boxes for Houston while I am home alone with four children. I am six months pregnant and I cannot even lift the packages from our car to the house, and as usual, he’s out helping others. I appreciate the chessed he does for others, however, what about his own wife? I need him at home to help me pack our pantry with food, not helping pack other people’s pantries.”
Psychologists have recently termed a phrase for individuals whose ostensible chessed activities are in reality more detrimental than helpful. It is referred to as “pathological altruism.” That’s what Shloimi was, a ‘pathological Baal Chessed.’ He would help others to the detriment of his own family. Before I had a chance to calm down I told Esther I would take care of this immediately. I jumped into my car and headed off to the parking lot where the goods were being loaded onto the trucks.
“Where is Shlomi?”
“Shloimi is taking charge of loading the truck.”
I ran to Shloimi and breathlessly said to him, “Shloimi, you must come with me right away. There is someone who needs your help this minute and you and only you can help this person.”
Shloimi jumped in and off we drove. As we neared his house he said, “Is the emergency at my home?” “Yes Shloimi, it is!”
“Oy, which child is it? Are my children alright?”
“Yes, your children are fine.”
“Then what is the emergency? I just spoke to my wife and she knows I am out helping others. I don’t understand who exactly needs me at home?” With controlled emotions I moved my face so close to his that I could see the beads of perspiration forming on his upper lip and I could smell the sweat on him. I looked at him in the eye and said, “Your wife needs you, and you are the only person in the world who can help her.”
“I don’t get it. What does she need of me?”
“She needs you to be her husband.”